Hilary Larson's travel tales and tips.

An Art Nouveau Spring

04/29/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

Prague spring blossoms with the curlicued flowers and vines of Art Nouveau.

The Art Nouveau façade of the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague. Photo courtesy

Jewish History On The Gulf

04/22/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

Spring blows into Galveston Island on a warm Gulf breeze. By April, these peaceful golden shores are basking in 70-degree afternoons, with native seabirds circling overhead and lazy ripples spreading from the fishermen’s lines. Weekend traffic is starting to get heavy: Houston is just a 40-minute drive away.

A row of candy-colored homes dot Galveston’s historic East End. Photo courtesy Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau

Reveling In The Slow Pace Of Deerfield

Far from South Beach, Cel-Ray and shuffleboard with the grandparents make for a relaxing, low-key Florida vacation.
04/15/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

“Where are you headed?” asked my seatmate on the flight from Madrid
to Miami.

Deerfield Beach, an hour north of Miami, is a site of low-slung bungalows and 1940s budget motels.

Belgium’s Capital Of Culture

04/08/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

The group at the next table is chattering away in something that sounds like German, but maybe it’s not. Swiss-Deutsch?

Dancers at the Balkan Trafik Festival, perhaps Europe’s largest festival of Balkan music. Photo courtesy Balkan Trafik Festival

Tips For Studying Abroad

04/02/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

When I was in college in the 1990s, study abroad was still a fairly marginal activity — about as common as majoring in classics.

Salamanca, in northwestern Spain, is a perennial destination for students learning abroad. Photo courtesy Salamanca Tourism

The Land Of ‘Shaloha!’

03/18/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

Why Maui?

For thousands of Hawaii vacationers, the island of Maui is the happy medium. It is lovely and unspoiled, but not so unspoiled as Kauai, widely regarded as the prettiest isle but sparse on nightlife. Like Oahu, Maui has great restaurants and plenty to do, but it is less built-up and retains the lazy vacationer’s pace.

Singers at a luau in Maui. Amy Larson

The Fiesta Season

03/11/2013 - 20:00
Travel Writer

Siesta and fiesta: they are the rhyming clichés of the carefree Spanish lifestyle. And nowhere are the midday pause and nocturnal festivities more evident than in Barcelona, Spain’s party capital.

Pyramid scheme: Festa revelers in the Major de Gracia neighborhood. Turisme de Barcelona

The Other Granada

03/04/2013 - 19:00
Travel Writer

Granada is, arguably, Spain’s loveliest city. But its American namesake, Granada, Nicaragua, needs little argument: wedged between a volcano and the vast Lake Nicaragua, the new-world city might be the most romantic town in all of Central America.

A picturesque cobble-stoned square in downtown Granada. Dick Washburne/Nicaraguan Tourism Board

Art In Bloom

From a groundbreaking show on King Herod to a first-ever Bolshoi Opera performance, it’s a rich cultural spring in Israel.
Travel Writer
02/26/2013 - 19:00

This is a spring of 

contrasts and novelty on the Israeli cultural calendar. While many countries have cut back on programming or stuck to the tried-and-true in this age of austerity, Israeli institutions are making a bid for worldwide attention. 

Groundbreaking exhibitions and inventive festivals invite audiences to reconsider topics ranging from King Herod to the very nature of chamber music.

The tense, vital dichotomy of ancient vs. modern is always at the heart of Israeli culture — but spring’s offerings at the Israel Museum prompt viewers to confront past and present anew.

The museum, in Jerusalem, is the site of a groundbreaking exhibition: the first-ever comprehensive show to spotlight King Herod, the controversial Roman proxy and master builder who ruled during the first century B.C.E. “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” is easily the most talked-about show of the spring on both sides of the Atlantic (or Mediterranean, for that matter).

In a land so inexorably defined by places and buildings, Herod is a figure of mind-boggling significance. Few people can claim to have left such an imprint on the Israeli landscape: Herod is credited with overseeing the construction of Masada, Caesarea, the Second Temple at Jerusalem, and Herodium, among other sites.

A massive reconstructed tomb, sarcophagi, decorative objects from the king’s palaces and other recovered objects form a testament to Herod’s enduring physical legacy. They also pay tribute to the extraordinary career of Professor Ehud Netzer, the Hebrew University historian who devoted four decades to the excavation — physical and psychological — of matter related to this complex figure.

Elsewhere in the museum, a spotlight on Israel’s recent artists is a thoughtful response to the Herodian legacy. The strong, classical forms of Herod’s day lend historical context to the 20th-century metalwork on view in “Forging Ahead: Wolpert and Gumbel, Israeli Silversmiths for the Modern Age,” a retrospective of the two German-Israeli craftsmen. Recent paintings by the Jerusalem-based Joshua Borokovsky and provocative, highly personal videos by the young Tel Aviv artist Nelly Agassi are both featured in solo shows.

Meanwhile, after dark, Jerusalem arts promoters are continuing their efforts to freshen the Old City’s image for a young generation. Last year’s inaugural “Sounds of the Old City” Music Festival returns for a second season this month, filling the alleyways and courtyards of Jerusalem with live music.

From dusk until nearly midnight, musicians will roam around Jaffa Gate, stroll on Mamilla Boulevard and strum in Muristan Square in the Christian Quarter, filling all four quarters of the Old City with music to complement the city’s ethnic diversity: minor-key Armenian tunes, twangy Arab instruments, a Christian gospel choir and Jewish traditional music. Art videos and light displays add color to the proceedings, which kick off a warm-weather season of outdoor festivities.

Nightlife is always at a constant rolling boil in Tel Aviv, of course, where the world’s hottest DJs are treated like visiting royalty at the beachside clubs.

But it’s a longhair production that’s generating buzz this spring: the first-ever visit to Israel of Moscow’s Bolshoi Opera this June and July. The Bolshoi will present itsw signature production of Tchaikovsky’s “Yevgeny Onegin,” the most popular of Russian operas and a favorite of Tel Aviv’s music-loving Russian community.

Meanwhile down south, Eilat, known to vacationers more for its Red Sea beaches than for Tchaikovsky, has been the site of a prestigious Chamber Music Festival for eight springs running. This year’s lineup of 13 concerts at the Dan Eilat Hotel will take place from late April into May; the headline performance features actor John Malkovich and the Wiener Akademie Baroque Orchestra in “The Infernal Comedy – Confessions of a Serial Killer,” described as a cross between baroque opera and a bloody crime drama.

As that head-scratcher suggests, the Eilat Chamber Music Festival boasts a singularly varied lineup that pushes the boundaries of what most people think of as chamber music. It’s not your typical week of string quartets — although the Doric String Quartet, one of Europe’s most celebrated, is on the program. But so are the German Brass Ensemble and the Salamandrum Percussion Duo, Tomer Yariv and Gilad Dobrecky’s inventive blend of American funk, African tunes, medieval Moroccan and Jewish prayer music.

En route through the desert, make a stop at a far more ancient cultural marker: En Avdat National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that just re-opened after a three-year restoration. In 2009, vandals attacked the site’s historic Byzantine structures, its ancient altars and surrounding Nabatean ruins from the time of (you guessed it) Herod.

Deep in the Negev, in a landscape of canyons and rocky springs, Avdat is an ancient Spice Road outpost that played a role in successive Near Eastern civilizations. A visit here nicely complements the Herod exhibition, putting the Nabatean ruler for whom it is named into tangible context. ◆

Performers from last year’s “Sounds of the Old City Festival” in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Jerusalem Development Agency

The Destination Bar/Bat Mitzvah

02/25/2013 - 19:00
Travel Writer

In 2010, Amy Krauss reflexively set a bar mitzvah date for her son at their Tucson, Ariz., Reform synagogue.

Ethan Bernstein’s bar mitzvah celebration in Italy. MaryAnn Bernstein
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